Cold Melon Soup

Here in Barcelona it’s summer – hot hellish like summer. These days a heat wave struck and combined with BCN’s usual humidity, I’m far from being hungry, and all I can think of when it comes to eating is having something cold, light, healthy & easy to make. Most head for a salad or – when thinking about cold soups – a Gazpacho, but a real good alternative to those rather known summer dishes is a cold melon soup:

SopaDeMelon

Ingredients (4 servings):

1/2 ‘Piel de Sapo’ melon

1/2 cucumber (a piece about 20cm long)

2 garlic cloves

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (use a special one for salads – not for cooking)

salt & pepper to season

Chives

Optional:

A few slices of Jamón Ibérico Bellota – Pata Negra

You can also add some mint leaves that you puree in the beginning with the other ingredients.

Preparation:

Peel the cucumber, cut it and the melon into even pieces, and put them into a high bowl. Peel the garlic and add it as well. Puree everything with a mixer. Add 2-3 spoons of olive oil at the end and mix well. Season with salt & pepper and leave in the fridge for at least 1h. If you want to add a bit of jamón bellota, take it out of the fridge about 20mins before serving the soup so it can evolve its full flavours at room temperature.

Fill the cold soup into soup plates. Rip the jamón gently into pieces and place those in the middle of the soup. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over it and garnish with some chopped chives and the entire chive stems.

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The Healthy Bake (vegan & vegetarian)

Today we fancied something fast, light & healthy, yet warm for dinner. As my better half is currently having some dietary restrictions, I was giving the options a good thought and came up with this easy to make one-tray-recipe – I just love putting everything into the oven and that all comes out cooked to perfection and ready to serve:

HealthyBake3

The Healthy Veggie Bake also makes as a perfect Side Dish

Ingredients (makes 2 servings as a main course):

1/2 big butternut squash pumpkin

1 big white sweet potato (you can also use a normal sweet potato)

4 big carrots

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano (optional)

Preparation (5mins + 30mins cooking time):

Preheat the oven (fan) to 180ºC.

Cut all the veggies into even pieces (the carrot pieces should also be a bit thicker) and place them into an oven dish (I lined mine additionally with parchment paper), drizzle some Extra Virgin Olive Oil over them and season with salt & ground black pepper. Place the oven dish on the medium level in your oven.

HealthyBake1

Optional: Pumpkin is great combined with parmesan cheese, so if you are feeling cheesy, take the oven dish out after about 20mins and cover the vegetables in a thin layer of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and put it back into the oven for another 10mins. Enjoy!!

HealthyBake2

Mmmmm, Parmigiano!

My style TLC Spanish Chickpea White Bean Stew (vegan – or non-vegan)

I just love to feel comfy & warm – especially now that it’s cold outside. And I love to eat soups and hearty dishes when it’s that time of the year. So what do you get when you combine a soup with a hearty dish?: a comfort food stew!

Ingredients:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Chorizo (if you opt for the non-vegan version – cut it up a bit, so the juices can get out while cooking)

1 white onion, chopped

2 green Italian peppers, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

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optional:

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 big carrot, cut into quarters and then into fine slices

1 big potato, diced

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400g chickpeas (soak them in water overnight or use a jar of pre-cooked ones)

400g white beans (soak them in water overnight or use a jar of pre-cooked ones)

500-750ml vegetable broth (depending on the desired consistency – you’ll get some thickness from the beans)

salt

white ground pepper

about 2 TSPs smoked paprika spice (Spanish one, if possible – I really recommend using this one as it provides the needed smokiness for the vegetarian/ vegan version)

Pimenton de la Vera

Preparation:

Pour about 4 TBSPs of olive oil into a cooking pot, add the onions, the carrots and the smoked paprika spice to the cold olive oil, stir well and let them cook at high heat for about 2mins. Lower the heat to a medium heat and add the garlic, the chorizo (for the meaty version), your Italian peppers and the red bell pepper. Let it simmer for about 5-8 more minutes.

Now add 500-750ml of vegetable broth and the diced potato and bring to a boil. Lower the heat again, but make sure it keeps boiling. After 5 more minutes add the rinsed chickpeas. Boil on medium to low heat for 10 more minutes until the potato dices are fully cooked. Now add the rinsed white beans, let them heat up and season everything with salt and pepper according to taste, switch off the hotplate, but leave the covered cook pot on, so the taste develops. The stew will taste better the next day, as most stews do.

Spanish Chickpea Bean Stew

The Healthier Option: Unfried Sweet Potato Fries

Love sweet potato fries? Me, too! Since I had that delicious treat for the first time back in 2010 in NYC, I’ve always preferred them as a side or a snack whenever available. I’m not a huge fan of fried food usually, and I like it healthy so since they are in season over here at the moment, I thought let’s give it a go and bake them in the oven. And the result was oh sooo good! This is yet another super easy recipe and just perfect for a snack or as a side dish.

Ingredients:

1 huge sweet potato or basically as many as you like or as many as your baking tray can hold 😉

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Fleur de Sel or sea salt

Sweet Potato Fries

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan). Meanwhile peel the sweet potato(es) and cut it into evenly long pieces. Line out your baking tray with parchment paper and spread the sweet potato pieces all over it. Drizzle some Extra Virgin Olive Oil (I used a pastry brush to glaze all sweet potato pieces evenly with olive oil) over them and season your fries with salt. If you like the taste you can furthermore season them with freshly ground black pepper.

Cook the fries during 20mins – if finely cut they shouldn’t take longer than that.

Recommendation: Serve them with some BBQ sauce – that is just an unbeatable combination!

Vegetarian / Vegan Cottage Pie

It’s winter in the Northern hemisphere and even for us people living in the Mediterranean it’s cold, and we long for hearty dishes that make us feel warm and comfort us through a cold evening. So what’s better than a delicious vegetarian (or even vegan) Cottage Pie?

Cottage Pie

Ingredients (for about 4 big servings):

vegetable oil

1/2 chopped onion

2 big chopped carrots

2 chopped garlic cloves

300 g Quorn Mince (alternatively [and vegan!] use several times washed, drained and crumbled firm tofu that you season with salt, pepper and smoked paprika spice, [add some mustard for the extra kick if you like] – for people living in Barcelona: you can buy frozen vegetarian mince at the Mercat de Santa Caterina)

gravy (use instant one or make your own: Fry some chopped onion (about 1/4) using 2 TBSPs vegetable oil until golden brown; sprinkle in about 1-2 TBSPs of flour and stir well until all flour clumps are removed. Cook while stirring well over a medium heat until the flour-onion mix is light brown. Add vegetable broth [about 250 ml or more depending on your desired gravy thickness], and keep stirring until your gravy is smooth and season with salt and pepper.)

about 100 g fresh or frozen peas

chopped chives and parsley

salt and freshly ground pepper

For the mash:

3 big potatoes

butter or margarine

3 TBSPs of cream (vegan soy cream)

about 30 ml of milk (for a vegan version, use soy milk for example)

salt

pepper

ground nutmeg

Preparation:

Dice the potatoes and bring them to a boil. While they are boiling, heat up some vegetable oil (I recommend rice or sunflower oil as it has a rather neutral flavour) and add the onion and the garlic. Let the onion garlic mix cook over a medium heat and before it turns golden, add the chopped carrots. Keep stirring the vegetable mix from time to time to prevent burning. Incorporate the vegetarian / vegan mince and add more vegetable oil if necessary since it tends to soak up the oil quite quickly so you might need to add more. Season it with a bit of salt and pepper, but do not over season since you’ll later on add the already seasoned gravy, as well. When the mince veggie mix is cooked, add 250 ml of vegetable gravy and bring to a gentle boil. Add the frozen or the already cooked fresh peas and the chives / parsley mix, taste it and season more if necessary, and put aside when done.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC (grill function).

Once the potatoes are cooked, drain the water and add 1 TBSP margarine or butter and mash them up. Add the cream and milk until you reach your desired mash texture – it should be smooth but not runny / liquid. Season it with salt, pepper and ground nutmeg spice.

Add the vegetable mince mix to a big casserole dish and cover it with the potato mash. Use a fork to get the riffled top structure. Leave it in the oven until golden brown.

Cottage Pie Ready

My style lentil soup

Lentil soup – a typical cold season soup that makes you feel warm all over and provides you with a good, substantial meal. So many versions are out there: German, Spanish, French, Indian ones and so many more, I am sure – so this is my take on lentil soup. It’s fairly easy to make and not very time consuming, so definitely something for the newbie cook, but it will also surprise the gourmets amongst us since it is so tasty.

LentilSoup

Ingredients for 4 servings:

butter

1/2 white onion – chopped

5 slices of bacon – cut into strips

500ml of vegetable stock

3-4 carrots (depending on size) – chopped

2-6 firm cooking potatoes (depending on size – don’t use too many – the ones I use are not very big, so I use max. 6) – cut into cube-like pieces

1 jar of lentils (580gr gross weight – drained weight should be around 420gr but we don’t bother about that one since we make use of the liquid as well) or the equivalent of dried lentils soaked in water over night

1/2 leak – split in quarters lengthwise and chopped up

200gr Wiener sausages – cut into round, 3mm thick slices

salt & freshly ground pepper

2 TBSPs white wine or white balsamic vinegar (according to taste)

2 TSPs raw sugar (according to taste)

some parsley – chopped

some chives – chopped

Cooking directions:

Melt a piece of butter in a cooking pot, so all its base is covered; lower to a medium heat. Add the chopped up onion and stir. Add the bacon strips and mix with the onion. Let cook until slighly roasted. Add the chopped carrots and mix everything. Let it simmer for about 2mins. Add the vegetable stock, a pinch of salt and the potatoes, and bring to a boil. Let it boil during 7mins, then add the lentils (with their liquid), the leak and the Wiener slices. Let it boil until carrots and potatoes are fully cooked. Season to taste with salt, pepper, vinegar and raw sugar (the vinegar/ sugar combination is the big taste secret in this recipe). Add parsley & chives. Enjoy 🙂 !

LentilSoupCooking

Cooking advise:

Let the soup sit at least during 2hs to allow its taste to develop. Most soups and stews taste better the next day.

For a vegetarian version leave out bacon and use vegetarian sausages accordingly. For a vegan version use a high quality sunflower or rice bran oil instead of butter.

Fleurs Place – or the place where I’d have lunch every day for the rest of my life

This blog post is long overdue and so I am happy & excited I finally found the right moment to write it. After returning from our beautiful, amazing, stunning, marvellous & *nowordscouldeverdescribethatfeeling* honeymoon in New Zealand, I am feeling incomplete. I am sure, I left a big, huge chunk of myself & my heart on the South Island of Aotearoa and now I have to live with this until we are able to return. And one place to return to is Fleurs Place.

Fleur's Place

So it was this gorgeous sunny Saturday morning in Dunedin and after a stroll along Otago Farmers Market (http://www.otagofarmersmarket.org.nz/) including a beautiful latte and pastries, of course!, we made our way to the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Colony (check out the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust http://yellow-eyedpenguin.org.nz/ to find out how you can help this endangered species). With the help of our expert guide, we watched these majestic birds from a safe distance (and I don’t mean safe for us – it’s more about making them feel safe from us) and even discovered a chick (if you should ever go to New Zealand, you shouldn’t miss out on this experience and the staff from 4Nature Tours is super experienced, helpful and keen to provide environmentally friendly tours http://www.4nature.co.nz/).

Yellow-Eyed Penguin

A Yellow-Eyed Penguin watching its chick

After walking up and down the cliffs, trying to avoid death-trap-like rabbit holes, we all felt it was time for a great & tasty lunch and luckily our guide Joanne had recommened Fleurs Place (http://www.fleursplace.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fleurs-Place/283579521839354?fref=ts) much in advance and booked a table accordingly (which is something indispensable to do).

Fleurs Board

When we arrived at the restaurant located just next to the tiny bay of the small village Moeraki, we were immediately enchanted by the peace & beauty that surrounded us. Fleurs Place looks like a charismatic fishermen’s hut and features collectables like old anchors, wooden-framed windows, antique crayfish traps, boats, etc. that its owner, Fleur, collected.

Fleur's Collectables

Fleur Sullivan, a well-known local for her contribution towards NZ tourism & gastronomy, opened Fleurs Place back in 2002 and is serving delicicious dishes made from fresh, local & seasonal ingredients, emphasising on local fish dishes with a personal twist. Not being a seafood/ fish lover myself, I ordered the fish of the day which was Blue Cod (it comes with the freshest, local & seasonal veggies cooked to perfection plus a choice of four different sauces – the Chilli, Coconut & Coriander Sauce was incredibly mouth-watering!!) and it was so delicious (plus it was a stunning piece of art that came on a plate and I am a person that definitely eats with their eyes first) that on from that point I started living on Blue Cod and similar while being in NZ (and I made it through Blue Cod, Elephant Fish, Blue Warehou & Groper). The quality of all the ingredients used for the elaboration of Fleur’s dishes is supreme. You can basically watch them pull up the day’s catch from the Moeraki fishing boats to the restaurant’s own filleting station. Since we came to the conclusion on different occasions, that everything’s the other way around in the Southern Hemisphere, I am pleased to say the oceans in the Northern Hemisphere are safe from me, but Fleurs Place is the place where I’d choose & love to have fish for lunch for the rest of my life if I had the chance to.

Fleurs Food

Kia mākona

And just before losing the interest & attention of all you vegans & vegetarians out there: vegan and vegetarian dishes are created to order! Ah, and not to mention the amazing desserts!!

Fleurs Desserts

On the left: Berry Eton Mess (your taste buds will go crazy); On the right: Crème Brûlée (to die for!!)

If like me you can’t get enough of Fleur’s delicacies, I recommend getting the book ‘fleurs place – simple, fresh, naturally good food’ by Graham Warman and Paul Sorrell, which can be purchased directly in the restaurant or online. Of course, I couldn’t resist and asked most inspiring, charismatic owner Fleur Sullivan to sign my copy which she happily did. And this is the best souvenir a foodie like me could possibly get from beautiful Aotearoa – Fleurs Place’s recipes and my memories will surely help me with my aching, lovesick heart and transport me to the place that owns a big part of it. Kia Ora, Fleurs Place!

Fleur14

Fleur Sullivan signing my copy of ‘fleurs place – simple, fresh, naturally good food’

Moeraki Boulders

After a most satisfying lunch we headed towards the Moeraki Boulders, located up North alongside the coast from Fleurs Place, and enjoyed the magical scenery at one of the world’s most beautiful beaches